Journalist facing jail time for running excerpts from Nashville trans shooter’s writings

Truth-seeking and transparency threatened the freedom of a Tennessee journalist now facing jail time over his coverage of the Covenant School killer.

Since March 27, 2023, when the self-styled “trans” woman Audrey Hale executed a pre-planned attack on a Nashville, Tennessee Christian school, killing six people — including three nine-year-old children — a concerted effort to keep her personal writings from the public has remained in place.

Now, after Michael Patrick Leahy, Star News Digital Media CEO and editor-in-chief of the Tennessee Star, allowed the publication of excerpts from the killer’s writings, Nashville Chancellor I’Ashea Myles has summoned the journalist to a “show cause hearing” Monday over possible contempt of court.

While the Associated Press reported that Leahy may have violated court orders over “alleged publication of certain purported documents and information” sealed by the judge in the public records case seeking the release of Hale’s writings, independent journalist Michael Shellenberger made clear the implications of the hearing went beyond public access to the documents.

Referencing the Supreme Court’s Pentagon Papers ruling that revolved around the 1971 leak of documents from the Defense Department about America’s outlook in the Vietnam War, Shellenberger suggested Myles may have violated that ruling protecting the First Amendment when ordering Leahy “to reveal the source of documents leaked to him.”

“A judge doesn’t have the right to force me to do something unconstitutional,” the Star’s editor-in-chief told the journalist over the phone.

Summing up the import of Monday’s hearing where Leahy would have to defend against being held in contempt, Shellenberger indicated, “The FBI had blocked the release of the documents, ostensibly fearing copycat killings by a ‘segment of the population more vulnerable or open to conspiracy theories.’ Someone leaked them to Leahy anyway, and he published articles that quoted from them.”

“The case is important for anyone who cares about free speech, a free press, and the Pentagon Papers principle,” he continued. “Leahy’s attorney filed an emergency motion last week, arguing that the Judge’s order would violate the First Amendment and Tennessee state law.”

Likewise, Tennessee Coalition for Open Government’s Executive Director Deborah Fisher told the AP, “This could raise First Amendment issues.”

Citing court filings, the AP indicated Hale had “at least 20 journals, a suicide note, and an unpublished memoir,” being kept from the public because of an active police investigation, a matter that gave cause for the Star to sue.

In November, a leak of the so-called “manifesto” resulted in administrative leave for seven members of the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department after commentator Steven Crowder shared images of handwritten pages from the document on his program, “Louder with Crowder.”

Speaking with The Center Square Sunday, Leahy indicated, “Yes, I intend to appear in court on Monday at 11 am, along with my attorneys, Nick Barry with America First Legal and Daniel Horwitz, a nationally recognized First Amendment attorney based here in Nashville.”

“The American people deserve to know the details of how Hale was radicalized by the trans agenda,” said former U.S. Attorney Jeff Clark on X. “And the victims’ family especially deserve to learn that information.”

“This is what the free press is for. It’s not designed to coddle the trans movement or keep secrets that could get people killed through ignorance,” he continued. “Worse yet’ what’s being threatened against Mike Leahy seems to be a strange amalgam of 1) violating the First Amendment ban on prior restraints on speech; 2) a threatened mystery violation of law just like the Alvin Bragg case against Trump (“step right up, ladies and gentlemen, pick a plus-up crime, any plus-up crime”); and 3) weaponization of contempt law, like what’s going on down in Fulton County with Judge Glanville in the Young Thug trial.”

“What’s going on in America? It’s like a slice of the state judiciary across multiple States has lost its collective mind,” Clark concluded. “It must be election silly season.”

Kevin Haggerty

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